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"A lot of what is played on country radio today is the same as what we were playing in the early '70s," says Rusty Young, singer, guitarist and founding member of Poco, one of the trailblazing groups in the genre of music that is now labeled roots or Americana.
"Of course back then we were told that you couldn't have a country song unless it was about trucks, the Bible or your mother," says Young with equal parts humor and deadpan sincerity.
Speaking from Austin a few days into another cross-country tour, Young is as anxious to talk about Poco's celebrated past as he is about their future plans. "I think it was Jackson Browne who said that the beginning of country rock was when Poco played Los Angeles in 1968," says Young proudly. And Browne may have been right.
Although best known for the somewhat slick, late-'70s country/pop of "Crazy Love" and "Heart of the Night" from the album Legend, the original Poco was brimming with talent that would color the popular music scene across genres and decades. Guitarist Richie Furay was a member of Buffalo Springfield. He, along with bassist Jim Messina, would form Poco with Young, George Grantham and Randy Meisner. Messina would later gain immense fame with Kenny Loggins while Meisner joined the ultimate country/rock group, the Eagles.
But before Young could become an official member of Poco, he first had to pass on a scheduled audition for a new group that alternative country godfather Gram Parsons was putting together.
"I never did that audition because Jimmy and Richie and I got along so well together," says Young. "It just didn't make sense for me to go." Indeed, Poco's 1969 debut, Pickin' Up the Pieces, a landmark fusion of rock guitar and drums and country music's rural sensibilities, proved Young's decision was the right one. However, personality clashes soon led to the exits of both Messina and Furay. New member Paul Cotton became Young's kindred spirit, and the duo has kept some form of Poco going for the past three decades.
"I keep in contact with Richie and Jimmy," says Young. "But Poco has long been about Paul and me." Since the band's commercial heyday, Young and Cotton have kept the band playing festivals across the U.S., Canada and Europe while releasing modestly successful live and studio efforts. But any further recordings are going to have to wait until after the publication of Young's as yet untitled memoir. For the faithful, 2005's unplugged collection, Bareback at Big Sky, will have to be sufficient.
"Next year will be the band's 40th anniversary," says Young. "And I want to get the book out, so I doubt the band will record anything new."